Fourth-grader Taylor Hipp holds a pile of dirt proudly in the air. "Look how many worms there are in this one!" she exclaims. A handful of 10-year-olds drop their shovels and swarm the mound, eyeing it in awe.
It's springtime and the fourth-grade class at Steele Elementary School is planting the lettuce garden. Peas, beans, and broccoli will follow. The kids are willing participants in Seed-to-Table, a national education program spun off the Slow Food movement and employed by nine Denver elementary schools.
The curriculum, which is gaining speed around the country, uses gardening to help children understand agricultural concepts—the most basic of which is where food comes from. And thus, kindergartners grow string beans, kids of all ages make their own compost, and fifth-graders plant and harvest a schoolyard garden before selling their produce at the school's weekly farmers' market. Cooking classes round out the lessons by teaching taste and pleasure in food. "We've done baba ghanoush, caponata, and stir-fried eggplant, lots of things kids say they don't like. But there's never any left," says Andrew Nowak, a volunteer at Steele Elementary.
At the root of the program is Slow Food, an organization dedicated to restoring food to the center of pleasure and tradition in society. But to the kids involved, it's more hands-on. Back at the garden, Taylor Hipp works a weed out of the soil as she extols the benefits of growing her own food and organic gardening: "You get to help the environment."